Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Year-in Review

Here are some books I read this year so as to avoid reading something else. Say, Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs. 

Dow, David R. The Autobiography of an Execution. Remember when I read John Grisham's The Confession and made the assumption that this book would have been more worthwhile? I was right. David R. Dow is a Houston-based lawyer who represents people on death-row, which, as one can imagine, keeps him pretty busy. This is the account of a man Dow represented who was falsely found guilty of the murder of his young family and Dow's efforts to exonerate him. This being Texas we're talking about, he fails. And while this is a damn interesting story, I think Dow's is one of the most intriguing voices I've seen since, say, Albert Camus' L'etranger. And before you accuse me of being flip, let's not forget that Camus was also a staunch advocate for the abolition of execution.

Maupassant, Guy de. Huit contes choisis. This is one of those little books we all have lying around that look unappetizing, but which we read anyway out of guilt, thinking "Why buy a new book when I haven't actually read this one?" Let me define unappetizing. Although in the original French, this is actually an American school book published in 1900 by D.C. Heath and Company, and full of notes and vocabulary to aide while simultaneously turning off the reader from wanting to keep going. Good thing there are only eight stories, including some of Maupassant's best. We all know the story of "La parure," about an Emma Bovary-type who loses a borrowed necklace. Hilarity ensues.

Eliot, George. Silas Marner. I believe that George Eliot is like pizza. Even when she's not good, she's still pretty good. Some people would beg to differ. For example, Dad claims to have used Middlemarch as a sleeping drug in law school. Blasphemy! I say. Anyway, Silas Marner is a simple country tale of greed and honor and child-rearing, and I only recommend it to the other Eliot suckers who also liken her to pizza.

McEwan, Ian. Atonement. I know. I know. I'm behind the times. Reading Atonement was in vogue in, like, 2005, and it's already 2011! But I did it anyway. A good yarn. Would it be humiliating to admit that I was a lot like Briony Tallis when I was a lass, except without the authorial talent? And how does McEwan write little girls so well? Are we really so transparent?

Achebe, Chinua. The Education of a British-Protected Child. This was a Christmas gift that I read without having actually read anything else by Achebe. Probably not a good idea. It's been a year since I finished it, but I do remember that, it being a compilation of previously published essays and speeches, there is quite a bit of repetition that I imagine a more masterful editor could have sorted out.

Parker, Dorothy. The Portable Dorothy Parker. I think I've written enough about this one.

More later?

Friday, December 16, 2011


I said something I'm not proud of and ever since I've been trying to gather evidence to back myself up.

Circumstances: Driving home with Koch, talking about work. I had just finished cataloging a massive French literature collection and was back to the dregs of a collection of books about cows and grass.

The Criminal Thing I said: "I think I actually prefer working with books about cows and grass because it involves more imagination than cataloging literature."

There is only one thing you need to know before I present the evidence to support the above statement. (I'm sorry, this is not very interesting, but it is relevant.) Following the Library of Congress call number system (and I'm sure it's the same with Dewey, but Dewey is for babies), fiction is cataloged according to author; non-fiction is cataloged according to subject. Got that? Good.

Here's what I mean by "imagination". It's a book called The Burning of Dead Animals by R.H. McDowell. This crumbling pamphlet is bulletin no. 53 published by the University of Nevada's Agricultural Experiment Station in 1902. It's about the burning of dead animals. That's the subject. Officially, we'll call it "Dead animal disposal". Simple enough. Unfortunately, the fewer books there are about a given subject, the harder it is to find a corresponding call number. Library of Congress doesn't have any books about dead animal disposal, and the only book I did find in our library system was actually about animal waste disposal. And I'm not going to put a book about cremation next to one about plumbing. That would be, like, sacrilegious. So what next? Well, speaking of cremation, let's look up cremation. Burning dead animals, that's like cremation, right? I hit a dead end here, since books cataloged under "cremation" involve manners and customs and/or humans. Neither apply. Well shit. Let's try carcasses of the horse, animal, or cattle variety. Or dead animals? Bio-degradation? All of these are valid subjects. They lead me to two books, Live animal carcass evaluation and selection manual and Structure and development of meat animals. Not really the same as burning dead animals. More books should be written on the subject. By now, believe it or not, I've probably wasted half an hour. Mostly because I'm thinking about how "meat animals" is kind of redundant. I eventually stumble upon livestock carcasses: call number SF140.C37. Good enough. I'm not going to get any closer than that, not until the Library of Congress get their act together and create a call number specifically for dead animal burning.

Oh man, I don't even know if I should publish this post. I fell asleep writing it. Here's a picture I got from Googling "cataloging".  Like staring into my future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I have never been tempted to read a book whose title starts with "The Portable". These two words, side by side at the head of a book cover, conjure up memories of assigned reading. Besides, I'm not gonna let some expert tell me which Walt Whitman poems to read! If I want to read Leaves of Grass cover to cover, by gad I will! (I haven't and probably won't.) Still, two months ago I made an exception. Partly because of my natural sympathy towards saucy broads and partly (mostly) because of the gorgeous jacket art by the graphic novelist Seth. Also, as far as I can tell, and I'm basing this statement on no research whatsoever, there don't seem to be any other books by Dorothy Parker in print other than the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker. Baby, I make rules to break 'em.

Anyway, I did what most readers dare not do. I read the whole damn thing. (I think that may have become the motto of this blog: I finish books no one else is dumb enough to.) And having done so, I'm pretty sure even the editors at Penguin didn't bother to do so either. I'm pretty sure the intern was assigned the task of putting together the last, and therefore least important, section of the book, "Letters, 1905-1962". No research was done, unless a name could easily be found on Wikipedia (i.e. F. Scott Fitzgerald gets a footnote). No thought was put into whether or not a letter was actually worth publishing. Dates are omitted, context completely overlooked. Who the hell are Betty and Tony? Who the hell cares? said the intern. No one's going to get this far anyway. My favorite example of editorial laziness (ever, not just here) is the inclusion of this note, probably written in Kahlua on a cocktail napkin, if I know my Parker. The letter is to Harold Ross, founder and editor of The New Yorker. "Ah, look, Harold. Isn't it cute?" A footnote indicates that "it" refers to a "cartoon illustration of novelist Edna Ferber, drawn in pencil by Parker". The cartoon itself is not shown. Just those boozy words. And somehow that made the cut. Thank goodness.